In this week’s edition with ISN, featuring innovation hubs, our team visited TechQuest STEM Academy a nonprofit organization that provides education technology content, resources and tools for the delivery of STEM, ICT and digital literacy programs to young Africans.
We caught up with Dr. Itoro Emembolu, the Managing Director (MD) of TechQuest STEM Academy who told us how the innovation hub is equipping young people with tech skills for Africa’s rise in the digital economy.
Itoro told us that TechQuest STEM Academy was co-founded by Charles Emembolu and Aniedi Udo-Obong to build capabilities by providing hands-on learning opportunities in STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics), ICT and other capability-building programs.
“We noticed that many Nigerians went through schools where the focus was mainly on theories with less hands-on experiences or practical applications.”
According to the MD, TechQuest’s aim is to bridge the gap, provide hands-on learning, develop problem solving skills to real issues that would be useful for people individually and the world as a whole.
On the offset, TechQuest STEM Academy started out with a focus on children and young people, however, it has organically evolved to include the more mature participants this is because of the current need for everyone to be digitally literate or competent in this technological world irrespective of age.
“The skills learnt are not only useful for STEM-related disciplines but are transferrable across industries and sectors.”, she added
Innovation and entrepreneurship
On how hubs foster innovation and entrepreneurship in their local communities, Itoro said that hubs can achieve the objective by providing access to opportunities like funding and spaces where people can problem solve, learn, meet mentors and apply learnings to generate ideas, create solutions, products or services.
While also describing the state of Nigeria’s innovation and entrepreneurship, Itoro commented that, opportunities for entrepreneurs to solve problems, innovate and create value are at an all time high in Nigeria but due to many constraints including knowledge and access to capital and loans amongst other things make it very challenging for entrepreneurs.
Explaining further, Itoro recommended that asides from providing policy incentives and access to capital for improving Nigeria’s technology, innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems, there is a need for more spotlight, or a repository of what individuals, tech hubs, the government are doing in the tech space.
“There are many silos of knowledge residents in hubs and businesses. there should be visibility to avoid replication of efforts across hubs. This could also foster collaborations which becomes easier to engage when you know what others are doing.”, Itoro stressed
Challenges and milestones
According to the MD, the lack of clarity on the intended structure, scope or impact indices on projects by some Nigeria-based organizations has been a major challenge.
“While we usually reach a shared understanding, it consumes so much time and resources that we constantly have to weigh and balance use of available resources, opportunity costs in long dragged out negotiations on projects and ongoing and future projects.”
Despite these challenges, the innovation hub has impacted over 32,000 people with its programs and training.
With the help of its team and community of volunteers across 16 of the 36 states in Nigeria, TechQuest has made its activities more visible and has been a remarkable milestone.
Itoro also expressed her delight over the hub’s project on Female Entrepreneurship Support Programme (FESP), which it is implementing in collaboration with Junub Open Space in South Sudan.
According to Itoro, the initiative aims to support 400 female entrepreneurs in Nigeria and South Sudan to build their capabilities, get access to business development opportunities, improve knowledge and skills to run their businesses and leverage technology that can support their innovations and business ideas.
The program is part of the AfriLabs Capacity Building Programme funded by Agence De Development through the Digital Africa seed fund.
“We have over 80 mentors that have registered for the program from different parts of Africa and other continents.”, the MD added.
Women and youth participation in tech
On TechQuest’s role in supporting increased participation of youth and women in technology, Itoro said that the hub regularly conducts programs for young people with a deliberate effort to engage females.
As stated by the MD, some of the programs include:
- A 6 – 12 weeks mentorship program for young people with industry professionals on data science and machine learning.
- A collaboration with MTN Nigeria organized a mobile or web application solution Hackathon (mPulse) in response to the COVID pandemic.
Participants came up with solutions or products that eased the constraints in their communities brought on by the pandemic.
“During this period too (over the summer), we provided digital skills training (Mission T Initiative) in collaboration with IHS Nigeria, to over 900 registered students and over 700 teachers.
Currently, we are collaborating with Junub Open Space, a nonprofit Organisation in South Sudan to deliver the Female Entrepreneurship Support Program (FESP) to 400 female entrepreneurs in Nigeria and South Sudan.”
Government and ISN’s role
Itoro said that the government can assist hubs in Nigeria by improving on the access to funding support for tech hubs or startups with the hubs.
Explaining further she mentioned that by providing support policies or legislations, tech hubs can ride on to further build the tech ecosystem and improve the digital economy.
On ISN’s role, she mentioned that the support network has provided opportunities to network and collaborate with exceptional individuals and other hubs.
TechQuest STEM Academy is striving to use its programs, training and resources to increase STEM interest and improve access and adoption of technology within Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Featured Image: Dr. Itoro Emembolu, Managing Director, TechQuest STEM Academy
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